It’s strange talking about the Sun City Girls in the past tense. They were around so long that you always expected them to be around at some capacity. The length of their career was a testament to their will, as they were able to remain utterly unconventional and, as far as I can tell, make a living doing things their way. I mean, popular music does not treat fringe, avant-garde artists with much favor and with an even tighter wallet. So while you may eventually develop a devoted group of fans that you can refer to repeatedly, it’s still a few dozen short of a “cult audience” and it doesn’t help when you release two or three official albums in a calendar year along with five or six unofficial ones.
It also doesn’t help matters when you deliberately follow your most accessible (and rewarding) moment with continued explorations of folly, rather than hone in on those moments of clarity and become this wonderfully challenging yet potentially viable band with a (remote) chance of success.
But that’s exactly what Sun City Girls did. Torch Of The Mystics is their best-known work because it is their best work. And they inexplicitly followed it up with an album (Dawn Of The Devil) of unexpected “fuck you” twists and turns, burning any bridge of increased appeal.
According to the band, Torch Of The Mystics was originally intended to be a little more unhinged than it eventually became. During the initial sessions for that record, the band prepared a double LP for the label, who promptly went out of business before the two-fer could move ahead. In stepped another label who trimmed Torch to its more familiar track listing while serving the remaining titles as 7″ singles and various EPs.
When SCG’s drummer Charles Gocher passed away last year, the band began to tidy up its catalog, bringing back material that had gone out of print and, in the case of You’re Never Alone With A Cigarette, bringing songs together as a representation of a moment in the band’s career. The “moment” here being their best (some of the tracks were recorded at the same time of Torch) while not necessary being the best moments.
True to form, Cigarette contains fragments of greatness, often sounding like the early blueprints of something grand while never managing to go beyond the foundation. With the exception of one track, the songs are all instrumental, running anywhere from twelve minutes to forty-five seconds in length and each one testing the limits of what is considered “conventional.”
“Sev Archer,” “Amazon One” and “Wild Word Of Animals” are all unreleased tracks from the Torch sessions and they sound it. The rest of the material presented mines guitarist Richard Bishop‘s frantic Middle Eastern-tinged fretwork that alternates between brilliance and capricious noodling. It’s heady stuff: think Beefheart‘s Zoot Horn Rollo after being dropped off in Karachi with a bunch of peyote and a shitty combo amp, and you have an idea of where Bishop’s playing ends up.
The rest of Cigarette compiles the first record of the Three Fake Female Orgasms EP and another circa 1990 single, making this compilation a sonically consistent effort while not a very appealing one to potential converts.
These converts are better served by Torch Of The Mystics, an album so good that it will inevitably lead newbies down to additional catalog offerings like You’re Never Alone With A Cigarette. That’s why I don’t understand how SCG’s own imprint chose to begin here instead of Torch (which is itself out of print and fetching up to $75 used in some outlets). It seems perfectly logical to begin your re-issue efforts with your most popular titles instead of spicing up odds-n-sods compilations that cater to a dwindling bloodline of supporters, when it should be focusing on building notoriety towards a potential fan base.
It seems perfectly logical, but then again, Sun City Girls have never been good at being “logical,” which is what made them such an institution in the first place.